When you bite off more than you can chew

kobayashi-hotdogs[1]Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest is an annual attraction on the 4th of July that attracts both competitors and audiences from around the world.  Mountains of hot dogs are stacked in front of the competitors as the anxious crowds wait to cheer their favorite competitor.

Takeru Kobayashi, a small framed native of Japan, holds six Guinness Records for eating hot dogs, meatballs and other junk food items. In 2001, he set his first record eating 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes at the Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest. The secret to Takeru’s success is his unique strategy to tackle monumental eating challenges by taking one bite at a time. Where many cringe and crack under the pressure, Takeru continues to set world records with ease.

Takeru realized early in his competitive eating career that the biggest challenge is not the number of hot dogs but the tendency for people to have mental barriers. He simply sets a goal and works toward it in a methodical manner.

When he was asked about his ability to think without limits, Takeru said, “I think the thing about human beings is that they make a limit in their mind of what their potential is”. Unlike Takeru, you may find that members of your team have preconceived limits that hold them back.

So as a manager, how do you help your team manage through times when they feel they have bitten off more than they can chew?

There’s an old saying that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Helping your team recognize that every project has bite-size pieces can be a good first step. Managing these smaller sized portions is an easy way to be able to avoid being overwhelmed.

As stress mounts, we tend to focus on the enormity of the problem rather than the more manageable solutions. Team members who appear to be overwhelmed need you to coach them on how to find the most practical strategy to complete their work. The real barrier may be all in their perception and an objective viewpoint could be the perfect diagnosis to this common problem.

Leaders should use Takeru as an inspiration for their teams and teach them that often the biggest barrier to success is a mental one that can be overcome with the right perspective. Helping your team learn how to accomplish their goals without cracking under pressure will not only enhance organizational productivity but also show your team that you committed to making them successful.

Busiocrity-The Art of Looking Busy but NOT Being Productive

I’m not sure about you but I love the medicine commercials now. With all of the regulatory requirements placed on the pharmaceutical industry, 75% of those commercials are spent informing the potential consumer of all of the side-effects that could happen as a result of taking the medicine. Everything from blood in your urine to constipation to dry mouth or mood swings. I find myself being more intrigued with the side effects and forgetting what the medication is actually supposed to treat! So, in honor of that tradition, let’s assume Busiocrityis a virus…. indulge me for a bit.

Busiocrity, a virus that is plaguing offices internationally. Common symptoms:

 

  • Back to back meetings
  • Meetings about meetings that you’ve had or meetings you’re going to have
  • Endless To Do lists that carry over from one day to the next
  • Having a clean email box but destroyed desk at the end of the day
  • Trouble sleeping, constant list making, fever, heartburn, acid reflux and mood swings

 

Sound familiar? If so, you might be suffering from this common virus. Constant emails andmeetings that produce no results are becoming an epidemic in today’s workplace. As humans, we have evolved from spending our days toiling the land or chasing our food to toiling in meetings and chasing productivity. What’s worse is that there seems to be no end in sight for this plague. There are, however, some individuals who have escaped this Zombie virus to rise above the mess. What do they do? Let’s take a look:

Tip 1: Change your To Do List

Get away from the to do list, it’s a killer. Look at managing by projects and let that be the focus for your day. Managing according to projects helps to naturally shift your brain to keep your focus on the end goal versus the tiny steps that will get you there. Choose to focus on two or three projects a day and accomplish as much as you can for those. You will leave the day feeling accomplished and maybe even energized. Jeff Haden with Inc.com states that successful people “start at the end” and using a project minded approach will help move you more in that direction.

Tip 2: Shut down the email beast

Email owns so many people in ways that are borderline sadistic. If I am working on a project or doing research, I will close out my email and my social media and just focus on those items. This helps my ADDHD (in my case the HD is High Definition). I find I remain more productive and tend to get more accomplished by shutting down the noise of email and social media for two hours a day to do my most critical items. It also allows me to connect dots that would not normally jump out of me because of my fragmented focus.

Tip 3: Just Say No

This tip will be easier if you are in a management position or a position of influence so keep it in mind. If you are invited to a meeting with no agenda or is organized by a person that enjoys meetings because they allow them to pontificate, just say no to the meeting. I had one individual that I invited to a meeting who asked what we were to accomplish during the meeting. My response obviously didn’t engage them because they declined the meeting. After four times, I talked with this highly successful individual that said he only goes to meetings that have an agenda and a goal to accomplish. I’ve tried to keep this in mind as I get invitations and have learned to politely push back in some cases.

We are all busy but not all of us are productive. Try these simple tips and see if they work. If you have other tips, please share them. We’re all in this Zombie race together!

“To Do” or Not “To Do”- That is the Question

So, if you’re like any other regular, task-focused professional, you live and die by the great, all powerful “To Do” list.  Every morning or every night before you leave, you work feverishly to get your list going so that you can relax.  Unfortunately, it is also how you determine success on any given day.  How many did I mark off  today?  Eventually, you become so owned by the list, you forget what all of the tasks are there to accomplish.  Am I right?

Unfortunately, I suffered under the same curse.  I was forever making a to do list and then would make a to do item to add to the to do list.  Too bad few of the to do’s got moved to DONE.  Fortunately, I ran across a pretty interesting blog which opened my eyes to a new concept, but still let me keep my to do list.

Charlie Gilkey’s Blog, http://www.productiveflourishing.com, has been a great source of ideas for me.  One of the great “Ah Ha’s” I had while reading through his blog was the concept of managing your to do list according to the project they are associated with.  Simply put, lead with the project you will focus on each day and put your to do list in line with that project.  Although it is a fairly simple concept and makes common sense, I couldn’t think to let go of my precious to do list.

For one week, I decided to give it a whirl.  I began by using some of the templates Charlie provides on his website.  (check out http://www.productiveflourishing.com/free-planners/) It took some getting used to, but I found myself beginning to think first about the projects I wanted to accomplish and then the to do’s were secondary.  Could it be I was actually being rehabilitated?

On section in Charlie’s newsletter that always helps me stop to think during the month is his self-assessing questions:

While this list of questions is by no means exhaustive, it’s a good place to start. Give yourself 30 minutes to an hour to work through them – it may help to print out this message:

  • What have you accomplished?
  • What goals or projects need to be adjusted or dropped?
  • What are your priorities for the rest of the month?
  • What bills need to be paid, and do you have funds in place to cover them?
  • What projects/tasks have fallen off the radar?
  • When was the last time you rewarded yourself, and when will be the next?

Can you say that your to do lists are actually effective?  Wouldn’t you like to find yourself looking up rather than constantly looking down.  Isn’t it somewhat tempting to know there is a way to get your tasks accomplished without being slave to them?

So, to the original question: To Do or Not To Do…. what’s your answer?

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

The New KISS: Keep in Simple Strategy

Yes, I was one of those kids.  Actually, I don’t think I’ve graduated from the sarcastic approach to live in the least.  I was one of those that would do something similar to the picture on the left.  Why do they make things so complicated?  I remember getting in trouble in my pre-algebra class for asking what I thought was a pretty obvious question at the time, “And when did we start using the alphabet instead of numbers?”  I went on to Calculus III and did fine, but still never got over why in the world everything had to be so complicated. Have you ever found yourself sitting in a meeting or a “strategic planning session” asking yourself the same question?

One of the primary reasons Apple dominates the IT world is for its simplicity.  Recently, my wife needed to upgrade her phone and after having a Droid, she wanted to go back to the Iphone.  Why?  For its simplicity.  Far too many businesses try to make things all so difficult when in reality, the common consumer (and employee for that matter) wants things simple.  No complex thinking, no 50 point flow chart, no two hour meeting that only accomplishes raising the blood pressure in the room.  Enter, KISS.

So, simplistic strategy… what does it mean you might ask.  Well, of course you would ask that because, already, you are trying to make it more complicated than it is.  In this equation, X stands for the destination.  What are you trying to accomplish and create a line to that point, remembering that a line is defined as the shortest distance between two points.  Here are some thoughts:

  • Keep Meeting Attendance Limited:  I know transparency is important, but unfortunately, when you add more people to a meeting, you add more opinions.  More opinions usually find themselves tied to more egos which in turn, adds the number of minutes you find yourself in a strategic-less strategy session.  Think of who absolutely needs to be in the room and on the call.  Who will bring the most “bang” or ideas to the strategic planning?  Invite those people, keep the others out.
  • Time your meeting: Have a designated time limit and stick to it.  Sometimes the best ideas come out of deadlines, use this to your advantage.  Additionally, a time limit helps keep people on task.
  • Have strategic session OUTSIDE the office: Have you ever needed a break and walked around the building or run an errand?  How did you feel when you got back?  Exactly!  Do the same for your team.  Do it away from the office, even if you have it at a Starbucks in a very informal format.  Having the freedom to relax and plan provides ideas and approaches to problematic situations exponentially quicker.
  • Send an agenda out ahead of time:  One caveat to this one, don’t make it a four page agenda.  Have on one page the items needing to be discussed.  Sending out the agenda ahead of time allows everyone to have the evening or the day to think about ideas, even allow them to begin collaborating with their colleagues on solutions or ideas.  Furthermore, it will help you keep to the time limit suggestion above.
  • Don’t be afraid to call it off and reschedule: The worst thing you can do sometimes is keep on strategically planning when there is not a strategy to be had.  If you find yourself hitting a wall or the group cannot agree or come up with a solution, break the meeting, reschedule it.  Sitting there arguing for forty more minutes to say that you had a meeting is an utter waste of time and energy.

I am not sure why strategic sessions have become so planned and lacking productivity.  Actually, I think that the business world has determined “having meetings” is a form of productivity, but that is not always the case.  Break the mold.  Keep inline with a simple strategy.  Who knows, you might actually enjoy it!

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

Tip for Success: Know When to Shoot the Bird

Have you ever tried doing something to push yourself out of your comfort zone and against the odds, only to have nay-sayers constantly balking at you every step of the way? Like the poor climber in this picture, leading a change or striving toward success can be extremely difficult all by itself. However, when you add the negativity of others and the constant picking, you can find yourself wanting to give up.

In order to effectively deal with these types of challenges, you have to first address the aspect of change, not only how it affects you, but how it also affects those around you. Here’s my own personal definition of change using the acronym SUCKS:

  • S – Something that quickly gets
  • U – Under our skin and has a tendency to
  • C – Cause us to rage, often
  • K – Keeps us up at night, and
  • S – Strains our very self-control

Believe it or not, making the decision to succeed can be one of the most challenging changes any of us have to manage. This is especially true when the change involves motivating a team to embrace the change as well. In this recession, there have been numerous companies who have simply fallen into financial despair as a result simply playing it safe. On the other hand, there are other companies who have chosen to use the recession to their advantage take a better hold on market share against the odds. I would imagine, if you are the leader for that type of an organization, you could easily identify with the poor climber illustrated in this post’s picture.

One case in point is LG Electronics of Seoul, South Korea. It has tried to seize the initiative by taking the offensive, even down to the use of military metaphors to dramatize its objectives. It created a “crisis war room” in January 2009 with the aim of cutting costs, improving efficiency and prioritizing business plans, such as new product development. Evoking images of battle might seem an over-reaction, but it appears to have helped to galvanize the company. Despite the downturn in consumer spending, LG has continued to launch new television sets, mobile phones, home appliances and other products. “We’re finding that people are cancelling vacations and spending more time in their home, so they’re willing to invest in more expensive home experiences,” says Bradley Gambill, executive vice-president and chief strategy officer.

Now if you are going to pick a time to grow, a recession would not be the most likely time to “go on the offense.” Common logic would suggest playing it safe, retaining the clients you can and riding out the storm. At almost all firms, including LG, innovations require something of a maverick mentality. “Agility and flexibility go counter to how you run the core business. The core business is all about repeatability and predictability. You have to meet the numbers, have efficiency. The trick is how to combine flexibility with efficiency,” says Vijay Govindarajan, professor of international business and director of the Center for Global Leadership at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

So think about your firm or business. What uphill climb are you trying to spark? Do you feel like the birds are squawking at you and picking at you? Perhaps you might feel with all of the noise around you the birds are diving in, trying to get you off course or trying to just wear you down until you give up and go back to the bottom where they feel you belong. In those cases, my encouragement to you would be the same I’d give our friendly climber in the picture. Shoot the bird! Push on towards your goal and soon, you’ll be able to look back and realize you made it through one of the toughest economies, and not only are you better for it, but your firm or company is as well.

Happy climbing!

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

For my professional resume, click here.

Are You Leading Cats or Dogs?

Ah, pets.  Aren’t they wonderful?  Well, until they mess up your place, but other than that, aren’t they the best?

Ah, employees/associates/team members/whatever you call yourself.  Aren’t they wonderful?  Well, until they mess up the place, but other than that, aren’t they the best?

As a leader, I’m always analyzing the world, looking for new ways to accomplish the same ole tasks.  I’m the one that when I cook, I like to add off the wall seasonings, just to shake things up a bit.  Recently, I was watching a show highlighting the epic age-old battle between cats and dogs.  Then, it popped in my head, this is a lot like teams I’ve led in the past.  There are cats, and there are dogs.

Disclaimer: I am not trying to bash one animal over the other so before you or PETA decide to send outrageous comments on any of the notations in this post, please know ahead of time, I will not read your email or comments.  This is simply to drive a bigger point home that is obviously too big for you to comprehend.  Thank you.  (Now that we have that out of the way, let’s move on!)

Cat-Like Employees:

One thing I have noticed about cats, is they are their own animal.  They could care less about schedules, routines, doing tricks to impress people.  Most of the time, they come and go about on their own schedule, not thinking about much but what they want to do.  In general, they come around when they need food or when they want you to show them some affection.  Another observation about cats is that they cover up their “messes” in the most polite manner possible.

Cat-like employees act in much the same way.  They are their own person, usually caring less about schedules and routines.  If you were to ask a cat-like employee how they would characterize themselves, they would gladly say they are just someone who “marches to their own drumbeat”.  Let me translate that for you: “I am not going to do what you want me to do, I am my own boss.”

Another way to look at cat-like employees is how they come around for one of two reasons: a check and praise.  These employees or associates tend to do their own thing until something is needed of someone else.  Then, for no apparent reason, their focus changes.  All of the sudden, they become very helpful, nice, and often appear to be team players.  Don’t be fooled, they are only after one thing and it will be something for them.

Finally, the nice/nice so nice thing about cat-like employees is that when they mess, they tend to hide it.  They’re nice and neat about cleaning it up and then walking away like nothing ever happened.  Not sure if you’ve ever tried to discipline a cat for messing on your floor, but it doesn’t really work.  They appear to care less.  Same is true with the cat-like employees.  They like to hide their mess ups and if you try to discipline them, well, it doesn’t really stick.  So if you find yourself with a bunch of cats for employees, my advice would be to watch where you step!

Dog-Like Employees:

Dogs too, are their own animals but there’s something different in how they are wired.  It seems to me they are wired to serve.  If you watch a dog show, you will often hear the announcer discuss how the particular breed came to being by describing what service the animal was bred for.  For instance, the golden retriever was bred to, um retrieve. Regardless of the breed, it seems dogs are naturally bent to help their human masters.

Now dogs can be clumsy, too playful, and let’s not forget destructive, but when you get down to it.  They come around seeking your direction and wanting your approval.  If you want to play, they’re ready to play.  If you want to bum around, chances are, they’ll bum right there with you.  They like to fetch and bring things back to you.  Under the right supervision, they can be trained to do all kinds of things, all they seek is your approval.

Employees in this realm are fairly the same.   You have to deal with their clumsiness, playful attitudes and sometimes unaware destructive natures, but overall, they’re on your team.  They’re ready to go wherever you see fit and truly have the heart of a servant.  They seem to have a smile on their face while completing a task, knowing they will have your approval shortly following.  All they need is a simple pat on the back and a square meal and they’ll come back for more.  These are the treasure employees to have.

Now, one down side is that I’ve never known a dog to cover up their mess.  They’re almost proud of having that mess openly displayed.  You can train them not to do it in certain places, but can’t really train them to cover it up when they’re complete.  Employees how are like dogs are similar, they won’t attempt to hide their mess, often because they don’t really see it as being a mess to begin with.  The good thing is, you can actually train them whereas with cats, training can be a futile effort.

All of this is in fun.  Like I said before, I am not a cat or dog lover/hater.  I just enjoy taking something normal in life and using it to help understand what goes on around me at work.  Hope you enjoyed this post.

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

For my professional resume, click here.